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Arlington School Board at the Aug. 18 meeting (image via APS)

Arlington Public Schools will follow mostly the same Covid protocols as last year, including optional masks, free weekly testing, and five-day quarantines.

At last Thursday’s School Board meeting, Superintendent Dr. Francisco Durán reviewed the latest Covid protocols for the upcoming 2022-2023 school year, which starts this coming Monday, Aug. 29.

Much hasn’t changed from last year as APS continues to align guidelines with both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Virginia Department of Health (VDH).

Masks will continue to be optional for students and staff as long as local transmission continues to be low or moderate. Currently CDC says Arlington is in its “Medium” community level for Covid, though it appears possible that that may flip back to “Low” on Thursday. If cases do rise and hit the “High” threshold, APS says its requirements will change.

“If we ever get to the high community transmission, we will require masks,” said Durán. “Of course, we will have the opportunity for families to opt out but it will be required for staff.”

Students who have Covid-like symptoms will also continue to be sent home and only allowed back to school with either a physician’s note or a negative test. The change in this year’s policy, though, is that all tests will be accepted as proof, including at-home rapid tests. Previously, only PCR tests were accepted.

Like last year, all students who test positive must quarantine for five days and can return to school on the sixth day provided they are symptom-free. From day six to day ten, students and staff must wear a mask while at school.

If a student is unable or “unwilling” to wear a mask, a negative test must be provided to return to school. A student or a staff member who still feels ill or has symptoms after day five of quarantining should remain home.

“I want to put a plea out there to all of our parents and staff, monitor your symptoms. Do not come to school or work if you are not feeling well,” said Durán.

Another relative notable change from last year is that anyone who was directly exposed to a Covid-positive individual no longer needs to quarantine unless they have symptoms themselves, no matter their vaccination status.

Last year, the quarantine rules for those who were directly exposed but had no symptoms shifted. In early 2022, APS started allowing students who were vaccinated, willing to mask, and asymptomatic to return to school almost immediately.

Now, vaccinations and masking are no longer required.

Families and staff can also opt in for free weekly Covid testing provided by APS. A consent form was sent via email to all families, noted Durán.

“I highly encourage if you are concerned about making our schools safer to take advantage of this. It takes only a few minutes each week,” he said.

More information and a more complete list of guidelines is expected to be available on APS’s website and sent to parents, students and staff tomorrow (Wednesday).

The School Board meeting brought a few other updates with students returning next week.

Over the summer, APS invested more than $5 million in security upgrades, including a new visitor management system, door lock technology, and an alarm system.

A new mobile app is debuting that will allow parents to track where their student’s bus is and when will it arrive. A new virtual tutoring system for middle and high school students is set to be available, as well.

Plus, the first-ever “APS-wide dress code” is being instituted this year. Previously, dress codes were determined by schools. As School Board member Barbara Kanninen noted, a “more inclusive” system-wide dress code was prioritized by APS due to the ongoing efforts of one particular student who launched a campaign she dubbed “Free The Shoulders.”

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Morning Notes

The overlord of N. Longfellow St. in Westover (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Socialists Hold Abortion Rally — From the Northern Virginia Branch of Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America last night: “Fight, fight, fight! Abortion is a human right! DSA, La Colectiva, PSL demonstrate for abortion rights in Courthouse, Arlington.” [Twitter, Twitter]

‘Missing Middle’ Too Late? — “The former president of the John M. Langston Civic Association supports Missing Middle housing policies, but contends Arlington leaders are about a quarter-century too late for them to have a tangible impact. Speaking at a Juneteenth program June 23 at Central Library, Wilma Jones said any changes to housing policies, to allow a diversity of housing types in single-family neighborhoods, will have only limited impacts in communities such as hers, which already have seen major gentrification.” [Sun Gazette]

Parent: Daughter Bullied for Not Wearing Mask — “Over the last year, our child has been repeatedly bullied by multiple children because of her speech impairment. What was a minor speech deficit 2 years ago is now a significant problem. And a recent incident that started with bullying over her speech escalated into a physical attack because she was not wearing a mask and false assumptions about her vaccination status.” [Arlington Parents for Education]

Derecho 10th AnniversaryUpdated at 9:50 a.m. — From the National Weather Service: “It’s been 10 years since the June 29th, 2012, derecho impacted the Mid-Atlantic region. Widespread damage was observed across nearly the entire area. This included observed wind gusts up to 80-85 mph.” [Twitter, ARLnow]

It’s Wednesday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 86 and low of 66. Sunrise at 5:47 am and sunset at 8:39 pm. [Weather.gov]

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A discarded mask in Fairlington (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Masks are now optional on Metro, on Amtrak and on many airlines.

The announcements were made last night after a judge struck down the federal transportation mask mandate. Some cheered the end of the mandates, while others urged travelers to remain masked regardless.

For Metro, the end of the mask mandate extends to both riders and employees.  From a press release:

Effective immediately, Metro will make masks optional on Metrorail, Metrobus and MetroAccess for its customers. Masks also will be optional for Metro employees. This change comes as a result of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) suspending enforcement, while the Biden Administration reviews a federal judge’s ruling.

“Our mask mandate has been based on federal guidance,” said General Manager and Chief Executive Officer Paul J. Wiedefeld. “We will continue to monitor this situation as it unfolds, but masks will be optional on Metro property until further notice.”

Metro encourages its customers to make decisions that are in their best interests. Updates will be provided as new information becomes available.

So far, there’s no word from Arlington Transit about the status of masks on ART buses. In New York City, the subway system has, for now, continued to require masks.

In general, what do you think of the decision to end mask mandates on public transportation? Also, do you plan on continuing to wear masks regardless?

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Morning Notes

Heavy rain along the Potomac River, with Rosslyn in the background (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Mysterious Bug Bites Reported — Arlington residents are against dealing with red and intensely itchy bug bites, the cause of which is so far unclear. One theory is that last year’s scourge of oak mites are back. [Facebook, WUSA 9]

Catalytic Converter Thefts in Fairlington — “A resident has reported that the catalytic converter on their Toyota Prius was stolen during the night March 21, 2022. The converter was physically cut away from the vehicle. There have been 7 similar thefts of catalytic converters reported from the Fairlington neighborhoods.” [Twitter]

Man Pistol Whipped By Intruder — “2000 block of S. Kenmore Street. At approximately 2:15 p.m. on March 22, police were dispatched to the report of trouble unknown. Upon arrival, it was determined that the victim was inside his residence when the three known suspects forced entry inside and struck him with a firearm. The victim then deployed pepper spray and the suspects fled the scene. The victim sustained non-life threatening injuries and was transported to an area hospital for medical treatment. Warrants were obtained for one suspect.” [ACPD]

Gym in Crystal City Unionizes — From Washingtonian’s Andrew Beaujon: “Movement Crystal City is the US’s first unionized climbing gym. We wrote about this place when it was called Earth Treks.” [Twitter, Twitter]

Help for Arlington’s Ukrainian Sister City — “That partnership, which came to fruition after years of advocacy by Sonevytsky, has mostly focused on cultural and professional exchanges. But the unprovoked Russian attack on Ukraine last month changed all that. Now, the Arlington Sister City Association and the volunteer group that runs the Ivano-Frankivsk relationship are focused on a new mission: helping send humanitarian aid to their partner city and educating Arlington residents about their community’s ties to a place now in a war zone.” [WAMU]

Reminder: Free Observation Deck in Rosslyn — “If you’re looking for views of the blossoms at the Tidal Basin and beyond, head to The View of DC, located at 1201 Wilson Boulevard! This 360-degree observation deck is open daily from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. (with evening hours until 9 p.m. on Mondays!) and admission is free with a valid government ID.” [Rosslyn BID]

Injunction Against Va. Mask-Optional Law — “Preliminary injunction granted by the federal court preventing defendants from enforcing EO 2 and SB 739 (the mask-optional law) in schools where the plaintiffs & their children are enrolled.” [Twitter, Washington Post, WJLA]

Pappy Is Back at Virginia ABC — “Good news bourbon lovers: Virginia’s annual Pappy Van Winkle lottery is back — this year with two types of Van Winkles… Anyone 21 and over with a valid Virginia driver’s license (you have to prove it when you show up to purchase) can enter the lotteries on Virginia ABC’s website from Wednesday, March 23 until Sunday, March 27 at 11:59pm.” [Axios]

It’s Thursday — After early morning storms, light rain throughout much the day. High of 66 and low of 58. Sunrise at 7:06 am and sunset at 7:25 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Morning Notes

A kite stuck up a tree in Rosslyn (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Another Malfunctioning Walk Signal — Just over a week after this, another reported crosswalk signal issue: “Instead of telling you when it’s safe to cross the street, the walk signs in Crystal City, VA are just repeating ‘CHANGE PASSWORD’. Something’s gone terribly wrong here.” [Twitter]

School Board Meeting Was Mostly Maskless — “For those playing the ‘how many Arlington School Board members will go mask-free at the first board meeting after requirements were lifted?’ home game, the winners were those who had put their money on four out of five. Board members David Priddy, Cristina Diaz-Torres, Reid Goldstein and chairman Barbara Kanninen were maskless at the March 10 meeting, as was Superintendent Francisco Durán. School Board member Mary Kadera kept her mask affixed.” [Sun Gazette]

Survey Work on GW Parkway — ” A $161 million ‘complete rehabilitation‘ of the northern section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway is being planned… Through Friday, March 18, there will be single-lane closures along the northern section of the George Washington Memorial Parkway for bridge surveys. Drivers should proceed with caution in these areas and consider using alternate routes, according to an NPS alert.” [WUSA 9]

Arlington Doc Helping Refugees — “An Arlington doctor is not only battling the pandemic in Northern Virginia, but he also travels across international borders to help those in need. The current refugee crisis that began with Afghans in 2021, now includes Ukrainians facing a similar fate of displacement and an uncertain future. For three years before COVID-19 spread across the globe, Dr. Ali Karim helped build wells in Nigeria, aided orphans and women in Kabul, Afghanistan and filmed a documentary about his solo journey.” [WJLA]

Days Inn Redevelopment Update — “The plans to replace the Days Inn at 2201 Arlington Boulevard with 262 multi-family units and around 3,000 square feet of retail were filed with Arlington County last week. The eight-story project will also have surface and underground parking. STUDIOS Architecture designed the building.” [Urban Turf]

Social Sports Return to Crystal City — “Sand Volleyball is BACK in National Landing starting this May with a few fun new additions – Bocce and Corn Hole!” [Twitter]

Yes, It’s Getting Windier — “Our analysis of wind data shows that the strongest gusts have become more frequent recently. Last year featured more big wind gusts than any recent year, a trend that has continued into this year. Wind advisories, issued by the National Weather Service when gusts are expected to top 45 mph, have also been on the increase since the mid-2000s.” [Capital Weather Gang]

It’s Tuesday — Mostly cloudy throughout the day. High of 66 and low of 40. Sunrise at 7:21 am and sunset at 7:17 pm. [Weather.gov]

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A discarded face mask in Crystal City (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

(Updated at 12:10 p.m.) Two years ago, stores in Arlington were being picked clean of face masks, as COVID-19 started to spread in the United States. Today, for the first time in a long time, masks are becoming optional in county facilities.

It’s been an unusual round trip from those early days of the pandemic, when healthy people were being actively discouraged from wearing masks.

From a March 4, 2020 Time article:

“It seems kind of intuitively obvious that if you put something–whether it’s a scarf or a mask–in front of your nose and mouth, that will filter out some of these viruses that are floating around out there,” says Dr. William Schaffner, professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University. The only problem: that’s not effective against respiratory illnesses like the flu and COVID-19. If it were, “the CDC would have recommended it years ago,” he says. “It doesn’t, because it makes science-based recommendations.”

The science, according to the CDC, says that surgical masks won’t stop the wearer from inhaling small airborne particles, which can cause infection.

Soon enough, mainstream opinion among health professionals shifted decidedly to the pro-mask camp, to the extent that mask mandates became the norm in Arlington and elsewhere.

But with most of the population vaccinated, and with new antiviral treatments available, the CDC last week again adjusted its mask guidance, saying that masks should be optional in places where the levels of Covid and Covid-related hospitalizations are relatively low.

That includes Arlington.

Only about 90 cases and two daily hospitalizations were being reported per 100,000 Arlington residents, per week, as of Tuesday, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. That is well below the 200 cases or 10 hospitalizations per 100,000 people per week that would push the county above the CDC-defined “low” levels.

So with county facilities, Arlington schools, the Pentagon and Congress now mask-optional, we’re wondering how our readers are handling the shifting guidance. Are you still wearing masks in some mask-optional situations, or are you going full maskless unless otherwise required, like on airplanes or in medical settings?

Let’s find out.

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Leaves and a face mask on the ground in Crystal City (Staff Photo by Jay Westcott)

Arlington County is making masks optional in county facilities — from community centers to County Board meetings — starting tomorrow (Thursday).

The county made the announcement this afternoon, following the lead of Arlington Public Schools, which made masks optional for students and staff on Tuesday.

“This decision follows new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued on Feb. 25, 2022, which updated how it monitors COVID-19’s impact on our communities,” the county said in a press release. “For the public and most employees, masks will no longer be required inside County facilities, so long as Arlington is in the ‘Low’ level,” as defined by the CDC.

Only about 13 daily cases and 0.3 daily hospitalizations are being reported per 100,000 Arlington residents, according to Virginia Dept. of Health data. That’s well below the threshold for Covid levels to be considered low by the CDC. All full-time Arlington County government employees, meanwhile, have been vaccinated or obtained valid vaccine exemptions, the county said this week.

Covid cases in Arlington as of 3/2/22 (via Virginia Dept. of Health)

Earlier today neighboring Falls Church also announced that masks would be “welcome [but] no longer required in city facilities.” Additionally, the biggest office building in Arlington — the Pentagon — is now a mask-optional zone.

The dropping of mask mandates in Arlington is a dramatic reversal from just over a month ago, when the County Board expressed support for Arlington Public Schools suing the state over Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s executive order to let parents opt kids out of mask wearing at schools.

At the time, in late January, the average rate of new Covid cases in Arlington was roughly ten times the current level.

As of today daily Covid cases in the U.S. have dropped to the lowest level since July 27, 2021, CNN reports.

The full county press release about the masking change is below.

Effective Thursday, March 3, 2022, Arlington County will no longer require masks for the public and most employees while inside County government facilities.

This decision follows new guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued on Feb. 25, 2022, which updated how it monitors COVID-19’s impact on our communities.

The CDC’s new tool – COVID-19 Community Levels – looks at hospital beds being used, hospital admissions, and the total number of new COVID-19 cases in an area to determine a level of low, medium, or high.

Currently, Arlington County is “Low,” meaning individuals may choose to wear a mask based on personal preference and level of risk of developing severe illness.

For the public and most employees, masks will no longer be required inside County facilities, so long as Arlington is in the “Low” level.

Masks are still required in some specific locations, such as public transportation and where health or medical services are provided. People may choose to mask at any time. People with symptoms, a positive test, or exposure to someone with COVID-19 should wear a mask.

People who are at increased risk of severe illness–and family, friends, and coworkers who spend time with them–should consider taking extra precautions even when the COVID-19 Community Level is low.

This change in the County’s mask policy is consistent with the recent guidance issued by CDC and Virginia Department of Health, as well as Arlington Public Schools.

The pandemic is not over, but we are in a new phase. Although COVID-19 continues to circulate, we now have vaccines, tests, and treatments that work, and most Arlingtonians have some immunity from vaccines or past infection.

Vaccination remains the leading public health prevention strategy to protect individuals and communities from COVID-19. The CDC recommends everyone 5 years and older be up to date, meaning a person has received all recommended COVID-19 vaccines, including any booster dose(s) when eligible. To find a vaccine location near you, visit vaccines.gov, walk-in to one of the County’s clinics, or call our COVID-19 hotline at 703-400-5368.

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Morning Notes

Aerial view of the Rosslyn-Ballston corridor at left, the Crystal City-Pentagon City corridor at right, and the Four Mile Run Valley at bottom (staff photo)

Man Tased After Columbia Pike Assault — “The suspect was inside of a business, acting disorderly and aggressive towards other patrons, when he allegedly approached the victim and struck him in the face. The victim sustained minor injuries and did not require medical treatment. Responding officers located the suspect, who continued to act disorderly and resisted arrest. A brief struggle ensued, during which the officer deployed a TASER, and the suspect was subsequently taken into custody without further incident.” [ACPD]

D.C. Also Has Camp Registration Drama — “Hey… it looks like DC is having similar problems with @VermontSystems as @ArlingtonVA had last week.” [Twitter]

Library Reads on the Ukraine Conflict — “Ukraine and Russia are top of the headlines around the world. Dig deeper into the two countries and their history in these books.” [Twitter, Arlington Public Schools]

Marymount Going Mask Optional — “On Monday, Marymount University announced to students, faculty and staff that the institution’s indoor mask requirement will no longer be in effect starting this Tuesday, March 1. This decision is based upon low COVID-19 metrics in Arlington County.” [Press Release]

On to States for W-L Boys Hoops — “The host South Lakes Seahawks played a part in the Generals’ failed attempt, winning that Feb. 25 boys 6D North Region tournament boys high-school basketball title contest, 56-47… Next for Washington-Liberty is the Virginia High School League’s Class 6 state tournament, with a first-round quarterfinal game against the undefeated Hayfield Hawks on March 4 or 5.” [Sun Gazette]

Beyer Wants to Nix Stadium Tax Break — “A Virginia congressman wants to sack a financial incentive package aimed at luring the Washington Commanders’ new stadium to the Commonwealth. U.S. Representative Don Beyer, a Democrat who represents Virginia’s 8th Congressional District in the heart of Northern Virginia, said stadium bond packages like the one working its way through the Virginia state legislature takes needed tax revenue out of the pockets of taxpayers all to benefit people who have more than enough money to build new stadiums on their own.” [WUSA 9]

Cherry Blossom Bloom Prediction — From the National Park Service: “We’re projecting cherry blossom peak bloom to fall between March 22 – 25 this year!” [Twitter]

It’s Wednesday — Sunny skies in the morning become partly cloudy. High of 60 and low of 40. Sunrise at 6:40 am and sunset at 6:03 pm. [Weather.gov]

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(Updated at 4:10 p.m.) Arlington Public Schools is effectively repealing its mask mandate for all students and staff.

The move, which takes effect tomorrow (March 1), responds to new Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidance, which was released on Friday. No opt-out form is required for those who do not wish to wear masks.

The CDC changed how it measures the severity of Covid at the local level and relaxed its masking guidelines. Now, it advises most Americans to wear a mask only when Covid-related hospitalization rates are high so as not to overwhelm hospitals. When that rate is low or moderate — it’s currently low in Arlington County, according to the CDC — people can forego face coverings.

More from a School Talk email sent to APS families this afternoon:

Dear APS Staff and Families,

On Friday evening, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) published updated guidance that included new metrics for measuring COVID-19 community levels.

The CDC’s new guidance lists Arlington’s current COVID-19 community level as low, and states that masks should be optional in communities at the low level.

APS will continue following the CDC’s guidance for operating safely to allow everyone — students, families, staff and visitors — to decide whether they will wear a mask at school and on the school bus. This change takes effect March 1, and there is no opt-out form required. APS will adjust these requirements, should community levels change. More information is available online.

Mask-wearing is a personal decision based on individual circumstances, and I ask everyone to support our students and each other. We will continue to foster inclusive, safe and supportive learning environments for all. Families, please talk to your student(s) regarding your expectations for mask-wearing and remind them to be kind and respect their peers as they exercise decisions to wear a mask or not.

Although APS is dropping its mask mandate, Arlington’s Public Health Division is waiting for more guidance from the state, says spokesman Ryan Hudson.

The county has required visitors to county facilities to wear masks if they can’t maintain six feet of distance from others. Arlington Public Library has required visitors age two and older, regardless of vaccination status, to mask up since August, which also won’t be changing right now, says library spokesman Henrik Sundqvist.

“In light of the CDC updating the way it monitors COVID-19’s impact on our communities, Arlington County is awaiting updates on the Virginia Department of Health’s mask guidance,” Hudson said. “At this time, there are no changes to the mask policy for County employees and government buildings.”

Right now, the VDH page on masking recommendations is blank save for the following message: “VDH is currently reviewing its mask guidance. Thank you for your patience; updated information will be available soon.”

Once a decision is made, Hudson said, the county will update residents via newsletter, website updates and social media.

“Layered prevention strategies — like staying up to date on vaccines and wearing masks — can help prevent severe illness and reduce the potential for strain on the healthcare system,” he noted.

There hasn’t been a blanket mask mandate in Virginia since former Gov. Ralph Northam lifted it for those who are fully vaccinated in May of last year. But Arlingtonians have had to wear masks in public schools, county buildings and libraries. Anecdotally, residents also stepped up voluntary masking whenever Covid cases surged.

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Morning Notes

Raindrops on a tree branch in Westover (staff photo by Jay Westcott)

Beyer’s Statement on Ukraine — From Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) last night: “Praying for the Ukrainian people tonight. America stands with Ukraine.” [Twitter]

HQ2 Phase 1 to Feature 14 Retailers — “JBG Smith also revealed Tuesday that it has identified and executed leases with 14 retailers set to open by the end of 2023 at Metropolitan Park, though it didn’t identify those brands. That’s a jump from what the real estate company had announced in November during a tour of the HQ2 site, at that time noting plans for between seven to 12 retailers on the ground floor. Two of those retailers have been announced: District Dogs and Rāko Coffee Roasters.” [Washington Business Journal]

More Details on HS at HQ2 Phase 2 — “During a recent community meeting about the project, county staff said Amazon will provide 26,500 square feet of space for the school in one of its HQ2 office buildings at the PenPlace site. The plan calls for Amazon to construct the school’s space and to provide a rent-free lease to the county for a minimum of 30 years… ‘We’re being told it will be the fall of 2026,’ Thompson said when asked when Arlington Community High School would officially make the move to HQ2.” [WJLA]

Local James Beard Nominees — Two chefs with Arlington restaurants have been nominated for a prestigious James Beard Award. Peter Chang, of the eponymous restaurant in the Lee-Harrison shopping center, has been nominated for a national award for Outstanding Chef. Ruthie’s All-Day proprietor Matt Hill, meanwhile, has been nominated in the category of Best Chef: Mid-Atlantic. [Eater, Washington Business Journal]

December Death Investigation Update — “The Office of the Chief Medical Examiner ruled the manner of both deaths as accidental with cause being narcotics-related. If you or someone you know is struggling with addiction, help is available.” [Twitter, ACPD]

County Employee Vax Deadline Approaching — “County Manager Mark Schwartz said the number of employees who neither have gotten vaccinated, nor won an exemption, is down to a miniscule number (six, he said on Feb. 15). Ninety-six percent of permanent government employees have met the vaccination mandate, with 135 more receiving accommodations required under federal law.” [Sun Gazette]

Mask Guidance from APS Superintendent — “As communicated last week, families will be able to opt their students out of wearing a mask in school beginning next Tuesday, March 1, in accordance with the recently passed Virginia law, Senate Bill 739. As this new law takes effect, I ask everyone to practice patience and understanding for others with respect to mask choice. We are one community, unified by our shared commitment to student success, health and well-being.” [Arlington Public Schools]

It’s Thursday — Cloudy with a chance of sleet today. A chance of rain and snow in the morning, then rain likely in the afternoon. Little or no accumulation of frozen precipitation. A slight chance of sleet in the evening, plus rain and patchy fog. High of 44 and low of 32. Sunrise at 6:49 am and sunset at 5:57 pm. [Weather.gov]

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Arlington School Board member Cristina Diaz-Torres (via Arlington Public Schools)

Arlington Public Schools says it will require masks when community transmission levels of Covid are high and substantial — with the caveat that parents can opt out in light of a new state law.

Meanwhile, it will not be reinstating its fledgling Virtual Learning Program (VLP) next school year.

APS reaffirmed its mask requirement during a School Board meeting last night (Thursday) while acknowledging parents have the right to opt out starting March 1, per a new law passed on Monday. Senate Bill 739 codified Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s second executive order after entering office, which allowed parents to opt their children out of mask requirements. The school system had attempted to buck the executive order and joined six other Northern Virginia school boards in a lawsuit challenging Youngkin’s order, but the new law makes those efforts moot.

Now, APS will require vaccinated staff and students to wear masks when community transmission is high and substantial. Unvaccinated staff and students will also have to wear masks when transmission is moderate.

“Our plan will and always has been to use science and data to decide when to ease masking,” Superintendent Francisco Durán said. “We all want to get to a place where we can see each other’s faces remove our masks safely, but we don’t want to do that when it’s too soon, and undo the progress that we’ve made.”

APS matrix for when masks are required (via Arlington Public Schools)

The change in masking policy comes as the Arlington School Board voted unanimously (4-0) to “pause” an in-house virtual learning program designed to meet the needs of families who did not feel comfortable with in-person learning during the pandemic. (School Board member Reid Goldstein was not present to vote.)

“We started this process with a sense of optimism… and yet our vision didn’t match our capabilities,” School Board member Cristina Diaz-Torres said. “Our intent did not match our impact. We did this fast, we — in hindsight — can look around and see many missteps and errors in communication.”

School Board member and VLP liaison Mary Kadera said she was tempted to vote against the pause because its rationale has “not been clearly and convincingly communicated.”

“However, because I have invested a great deal of time, energy and political capital in getting this recommendation to a stable state, and because I believe Virtual Virginia can and will provide robust instruction, I will vote to support it,” she said.

The VLP provided a combination of live, virtual instruction by APS teachers and independent work through third-party online education vendors, including Virtual Virginia. It served about 570 students in total: mostly students of color, students with disabilities, low-income students and students learning English. APS set aside about $10.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funding to cover the program costs.

But, six months into the school year, APS concluded the program in its current form should end because it is too expensive and academic performance in the VLP is worse when compared to student performance in brick-and-mortar schools, among other concerns.

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